Food : Art :: Alinea

I've waxed poetic about meals before.

I've said before that a dinner was "the best ever".

I was wrong.

I was invited by the lovely Jackie from I Am A Feeder to join her during the Chicago leg of her "great adventure" for the experience that is dinner at Alinea, the famous restaurant by chef Grant Achatz. I couldn't say no! I began saving for the meal over two months ago, putting a few dollars away every few days. Before I knew it, the day had arrived.

After work, I picked up my lovely date for the evening, and we drove down to Alinea. All we had was an address, and a vague idea as to what the restaurant looked like. It's an unmarked building, with a hidden valet placard indicating that it was, indeed, the restaurant we were looking for.


Upon pulling open the steel double doors, I was nearly slack-jawed as we walked down the red-lit, wavy-walled hallway. It was unlike anything I've ever seen outside of a modern art museum. It was just beginning though. The hallway had a door on the left side, which slid open like an airlock door in Star Trek. We were greeted by a friendly hostess who took our coats, and led us upstairs to one of the many small dining rooms.

We had a brief photo shoot, full of anticipation for the meal to come



After a brief greeting from one of our many servers for the evening and a few questions about dietary restrictions, the dinner experience began. Each course was described by one word and a few ingredients, and were accompanied by instructions on how to eat each one.

We began with edible cocktails.


LEMON: luxardo bitter, luxardo amaro, grapefruit

An icy-cold cocktail, eaten off a pin


APPLE: laird's apple brandy, grenadine, thyme, served in a poached apple

A tiny poached apple filled with house-made grenadine and brandy


SQUASH: cynar, carpano antica, flor de cana 7 year

A silky-smooth square of squash mousse topped with rum foam

I opted to have a glass of wine with dinner (because, honestly, how couldn't I) and I was surprised with a champagne cocktail with bitters, honey, and citrus.


And then the adventure continued...


Pillows for each courses' designated flatware


STEELHEAD ROE: dijon, rutabaga, grapefruit

The smoothest soup of squash, laden with hand-harvested roe, spheres of dijon, licorice, and radish


YUBA: shrimp, miso, togarashi

Fried tofu skin wrapped with shrimp in a rich miso sauce


URCHIN: watercress, vanilla, mint

Sea urchin surrounded by vanilla gelee, topped with mint, pepper, and roe. Bowl contains a watercress soup topped with pepper foam

These flags were brought to the table as a centerpiece, but we were told they'd be interactive later. The curiosity just kept building



BASS: black pepper, coffee, lemon

While all these are shades of white, the variety of flavors was incredible. Coffee cream, lemon spheres, black pepper foam, all atop perfectly cooked bass

The next course came with three elements in one beautiful spherical dish.


RABBIT: Parfait

Rabbit gelee, sunflower seeds, onion, butternut squash


RABBIT: Rillette

Squash puree, mushroom, panko-crusted rabbit rillette


RABBIT: consommé

A richly-flavored broth, infused with cinnamon, sage, and kept warm with a hot rock


HOT POTATO: cold potato, black truffle, butter

Rich cold potato soup, hot potato sphere, black truffle, parmesan served in a wax cup. The pin was slowly pulled out, the small bites went into the soup, and it was eaten in one shot.


A short wait later, this arrived.


And then this happened:


The "flags" were actually tomato-infused pasta

The pasta was then filled


SHORT RIB: olive, red wine, blackberry

This was topped with the small bits of condiments from the glass plate.


From left top: smoked salt, blackberry, grilled onion, black garlic, pickled turnip, nicsoise olive, and cherry. On the spoon: distilled tobacco gelee, in the middle a ribbon of turnip, and sauce of tomato and cream.


Devoured as a pasta roll-up

IMG_0090 IMG_0088

HAMACHI: west Indes spices, banana, ginger

Hamachi (yellowtail) with ginger and banana, fried, and served on a bay branch


A lovely red wine arrived to accompany the next course.


CANARD: a la Cussy

A 300-year-old recipe with duck, fois gras, braised cockscomb, wine sauce, and puff pastry topped with crispy duck skin


There's a course hiding amongst the eucalyptus...


VENISON: cherry, cocoa nib, eucalyptus

The tender meat, sweet cherry, and bitter cocoa nib along with the aroma of the warm eucalyptus leaves made for one perfect bite.


BLACK TRUFFLE: explosion, romaine, parmesan

They warned us to eat this in one bite with our mouths closed. The raviolo burst in my mouth and covered every millimeter with the decadence that is black truffle.


SNOW: yuzu

A palate-cleanser made from liquid nitrogen-frozen yuzu juice in a whimsical "snow cone"



SWEET POTATO: cedar, bourbon, pecan

The heated cedar plank added aroma to this perfection of a dish. The puff on top? Cayenne cotton candy. Cinnamon gel, sweet potato mousse, brown sugar... need I say more?


I think this says it all... we decided to call this shot "pure wonder and joy".


LEMONGRASS: dragonfruit, finger lime, cucumber

This kaleidoscope was eaten in one slurp, which combined the sweet dragonfruit, basil, lemongrass, and cucumber in one perfect mouthful.


BACON: butterscotch, apple, thyme

Salty, sweet, and whimsical, this one made me giggle, until I ate it. Then I was without words.


NUTELLA: bread, banana, chocolate

This dehydrated bite became Nutella upon eating


LYCHEE: jasmine tea

Instead of fruit leather, this was fruit plastic, dusted with powdered sugar.

Our table was then covered in a rubber sheet. Then these small bowls and plates arrived.


There was an idea as to what was to come, but we couldn't wait to see for ourselves. A chef came over (Chef Achatz came to the table next to ours; we were hoping he'd come to us too) and began to assemble our dessert on the tabletop in front of us.

Purees were painted on, cream was dotted, blueberry nut powder was left in small piles...


Liquid nitrogen-frozen chocolate mousse was brought over and engulfed our table in vapor...


Dehydrated blueberry was added


Was it art or was it food?


It just kept getting better, when the chef sprinkled creme anglaise disks with sugar and bruleéd it




CHOCOLATE: blueberry, honey, peanut

We ate right off the table. Each bite was a mystery as to what we'd be tasting, and each one better than the one before it.



We were on a mission...


...And scene.

To say that this was the meal of my life is an understatement. Each and every course brought a sense of amazement and wonder that I had never experienced in a meal. Both Jackie and I said multiple times that it was like being a little kid and discovering things for the first time. There was no menu when we sat down, so there was no idea what was coming next. There were tastes and textures combined in single bites that I never would've thought to combine. I am not exaggerating when I say that each bite was an adventure.

Thank you to Jackie for inviting me to join her for the meal that will go down as the best and most interesting I've ever had! I'm sure more words to describe this meal will come to me as time goes on, but as of now, I'm still relatively speechless.

For those who know me, speechless doesn't happen often.



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23 Responses to Food : Art :: Alinea

  1. Christina says:

    I’m without words too!! I have seen that Hot Potato dish (I think on The Best thing I ever ate??) where it was described how you pull the pin out. How cool! The whole thing seems like a trip to an amusement park of food!
    Christina´s last blog post ..Vegetable and Quinoa Bake

  2. Krystal R. says:

    I’m in total awe of your entire meal from start to finish…everything looked like spectacular food porn. What an incredible dining experience indeed!!

  3. Mandy says:

    Wow, Mara! That definitely looks like the most interesting, delicious, artsy meal EVER! I’m so jealous! I really wouldn’t even know how to eat some of those things;)
    Mandy´s last blog post ..Somebodys got a birthday

  4. Brianna says:

    Wow! Beautiful and intriguing! Thanks for sharing! I’d love to experience that meal.
    Brianna´s last blog post ..Black Bean Tostadas

  5. VeggieGirl says:

    I just picked my jaw up from off the floor…. I’ve never EVER ever seen such immaculately presented food before. What an experience of a lifetime for your taste buds and eyes!
    VeggieGirl´s last blog post ..The Moment of Truth

  6. i can’t…no words.

    and i’m freak’n jealous.
    Melissa @ TryingToHeal´s last blog post ..iHerb Giveaway

  7. I can understand how words couldn’t do this justice… I’m just glad you were able to capture it so well in photos so we could imagine what a fine experience this truly was!
    Christin@purplebirdblog´s last blog post ..Chocolate and Tahini Oat Bran

  8. Cate says:

    WOW! Thank you so much for documenting this…. I cannot imagine what the whole experience must have been like but this definitely gives me a great glimpse.
    Cate´s last blog post ..Cheesy Tomato Penne Bake

  9. Alinea will always have such a special place in my heart. I went last year and had perhaps the best meal of my life. Your meal there looks like the stuff of dreams. Hmm, I feel another trip to Chi-town coming on…
    Nordic Nibbler´s last blog post ..Maaemo- Oslo – Restaurant Review

  10. Amy says:

    Dy-ing. After reading this I have two thoughts. 1. I must go and break my rules of spending THAT much $$ on food. 2. This isn’t food, it’s art and must be experienced. Your photos and descriptions have totally whet my appetite and fueled my curiosity to save some cash for a few months and make a reso. SO GLAD you went and thank you for documenting it so well.
    Amy´s last blog post ..Grilled Polenta with Mushroom Ragu

  11. Roz says:

    HOLY WOW!!!!!!! This looks like the most AMAZING meal EVER!!! Thank you SO much for the stellar pictures that capture it all. Incredible. So glad you got to experience it!!!
    Roz´s last blog post ..Let the Birthday Celebrations continue!!

  12. Biz says:

    Okay – two questions Mara:

    1. were you hungry leaving because of the tiny portions?
    2. just curious how much a dinner like that set you back!

    Have a great weekend!
    Biz´s last blog post ..He’s Home!

    • We were absolutely STUFFED after the meal. I was worried I’d be hungry after the tiny bites, but they all added up to a great-sized meal. The list price for their menu is $195, so plus a wine, tax, and tip, it was $235. That’s why I saved for 2.5 months!!

  13. What a great experience! I never knew the restaurant was so nondescript from the outside. Amazing photos, I can see why you are speechless over it!!

    The food plating is incredible!

  14. Miri Leigh says:

    Wow- what a fantastic mixture between art and food this is! Thanks for posting!
    Miri Leigh´s last blog post ..12 Days of Bali… Day 12- The Highlights Video!

  15. The pics are gorgeous Mara! What an adventure!
    Andrea (Off Her Cork)´s last blog post ..Making burgers with Josh Ozersky

  16. Christina says:

    Everything looks so beautiful! This was definitely art!
    Christina´s last blog post ..A Burger on the Grill

  17. MarathonVal says:

    WOW Mara, I’m so excited for you to have such an amazing opportunity…. but next time sneak me in with you will ya? 😉

    Alinea is, of course, the #1 restaurant on my list and who knows if I’ll ever get there but it’s fun to think about. That night at Tru was absolutely spectacular beyond words!
    MarathonVal´s last blog post ..Risotto and Game Night

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  19. Alice says:

    RIDICULOUS!!! how awesome!
    Alice´s last blog post ..Banner Wars

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